In 2022 I began collecting vinyl albums. It has since become an obsession, and I've purchased over 200 records in the last year from a variety of sources - Discogs, Amazon, Merchbar, Revolver, and Poshmark, to name a few.
My first year of collecting records had highs and lows, wows and learnings. I spent way too much money, but thoroughly enjoyed my music journey. I've been greatly influenced by the meticulous art poured into the vinyl experience. The price of vinyl collecting is high these days, but the market is vast and wide. Most of the albums you want are available somewhere - for a price, depending on quality and location and legitimacy of vendor.
If I had this list of learnings before I started collecting records last year, I think I would have had an easier time finding what I wanted, and understanding what was worth the stress, risk, and cost. I probably would've slowed down my purchasing roll and kept my collection addiction in check.
Oh, you weren't aware that I have a music addiction? Well, check out my Top20 albums that I publish every year. These lists come from listening to a broad amount of music every year. I know we all do; I do my best to catalog what I like and report about it. I come back to these lists often to remind myself of what I really enjoyed that year, and to revise as I find new music.
My collecting started with CDs - a collection that grew far too cumbersome in time. I transferred that collection to digital and now have close to 300 GB worth of digital music. Digital keeps me company when I'm out and about, but there's something truly magic about the vinyl record experience.
There's a rush to opening a brand new vinyl album, spinning it for the first time, and hearing it loudly and proudly crackle across my speakers. There's a vibe to it I don't get while listening to digital or CD. The music seems more alive, awake, and present - imperfect with its static and needlepoint access, but seemingly more complete and whole.
I try to purchase every album in my annual Top 20 now. It's important to me to own the 20 albums every year that I would consider my favorite of that time, rather than having a mass of random vinyl that may end up in the trash heap.
Speaking of heap, I inherited my parent's vinyl collection this year. Hundreds of worn albums from 1950-1980. A wide variety of styles from Led Zeppelin to The Carpenters to Ray Charles. The experience of spinning vinyl has come a long way in 80 years, and it's nostalgic to trek back in time with some of the records of their collection.
Some records will be added to my collection. Some will be surrendered to secondhand stores. Some may eventually end up in that dreaded heap.
I'll do my best to take good care of the treasures that I'm collecting, just as I'm maintaining the trove of art that I've amassed. I hope these suggestions help you maintain your collection. Color me curator.
Here are my lessons from the last year of collecting vinyl records. This isn't a sales blog, but it will have some external vendor links and recommendations that may help your vinyl collection journey.
TEN VINYL COLLECTION LEARNINGS
1. Take Care of your Investments
Spend the extra money for quality vinyl maintenance tools and products - sleeve covers, vinyl baths, anti-static cloths, and fresh needles for your player. All of the accessories help you maintain a quality vinyl album experience - for you as a collector and for the next purchaser of your album (should there be one).
2. Handle With Care
I've learned that vinyls appreciate in time due to supply and demand. Supply for certain vinyl records is very low, so prices can be alarming for a single collectors record. With that in mind, you must take care of your purchases. They scratch and wear easily. Not only the vinyls, but the covers. I will write a separate blog on my handling recommendations, but observe careful handling of all records and covers, even using gloves if possible and cleaning your record before and after every use.
3. Invest in a Quality Record Player
I started with the brand Victrola, but switched over to Angels Horn. I love the sound and style of the player. I'm still figuring out to rip to digital. A work in progress. See shots of the players in the photo album below.
4. Use Discogs to Track your Vinyl Inventory
Discogs is a website and app that real vinyl collectors use. It's comparable to IMDB for music releases - part commerce site, part library of music, release, and artist details. It has global reach and a vault of accurate details about releases. It has technology built in for connection with a music community. It is the anchor site for my collection and tracks the value of my collection to the dollar. While I use it mostly for vinyl, it also tracks various music formats (digital and CD) and operates perfectly as a cross-format inventory system for your music. While there are many applications to help you manage your inventory and provide commerce to help you purchase what you're looking for, Discogs pulls it all together nicely. And creates Community around it. Friend up with artemissere on Discogs to see what I'm collecting and watching.
5. Order from Trusted Vendors
If you find an offer on the internet for a vinyl record you're hunting for, or see an offer too good to be true pop up through social (programmatic advertising is very clever these days), validate it with sources like Discogs or Amazon. And..
6. Beware the Backorder
Sites like Merchbar will take your coin for a Pre-Order of a vinyl release -- without having actual access to stock of it and with a delivery date that is completely fluid. Yes, they'll give you a delivery date, but that will move based on source availability. I ordered Poe's album "Haunted" on Merchbar in October 2022 and was still waiting for delivery of it in October 2023. This month, Tower Records made it available; I quickly canceled my order with Merchbar and grabbed it from Tower. I'll never trust Merchbar for a "Pre-order" again.
7. Research the Vinyl Version you're Purchasing/Collecting
Albums are pressed by various merchandisers and labels. I purchased my first copy of the The Haunted's "The Dead Eye" on Discogs. When I received the album I was surprised that it lacked some album art that was on the CD. So, I ordered another copy from Amazon, and that copy had images and layout like the original CD. For some reason, the Backbite label reformatted some of the album art, dropping some of the great details of the original CD, and pressed as their own version. On Discogs, there are many versions of each vinyl album, and the experience can vary by country, by year, and by label. Know what you're purchasing before you do. I now have two slightly different versions of the same album.
8. Stick with In-country or Local Purchases (if you can help it)
Ordering a collector's vinyl record from another country can be expensive for shipping and handling, and the experience can involve questionable packaging. The process of shipping can also cause damage to the shipping container, which can damage the external cover. Most international vendors will refund your money if you have a strong enough case, but if it's the only copy they have, you end up with a compromised version and/or a requirement to ship it back. Additionally, sellers offer their products on multiple sites - not a big deal for in-country purchases, but seriously annoying if it's an out of country purchase with a vendor whose stock ran out and has to offer you a refund. A recent purchase with a UK seller who had a listing in Discogs for a vintage WASP record ended up refunded after 5 days because their stock was sold on another site. I had to contact the seller myself after not hearing from them for close to a week post-purchase. This "selling product somewhere else" detail was in their listing, but you don't know if the album is available until you don't hear from the seller for 5 days. Given that international shipments take much longer than domestic, it's frustrating to wait 5 days to know whether or not you actually got what you paid for.
9. Return Damaged or Incorrect Product
Probably a no-brainer, but don't eat your vendor's error. Somehow, Amazon managed to send me two incorrect vinyls in packages marked as the product that I ordered. Somewhere on the fulfillment belt, someone dropped the wrong record into the package that was clearly labeled for my order. Given the automation around Amazon fulfillment processes, it's amazing this could happen, but it does, because humans are imperfect and make mistakes.
10. Invest in the Exclusives
Some of the coolest experiences I've had in the last year involve the artistic detail of vinyl albums. I grew up in the 80s, so I remember when new cassette tapes were the rage. And then collector CDs with boxed sets and beautiful booklets. But the current wave with music on vinyl is creating some of the best artistic experiences of the last decade. In 2022, the vinyl album art of Spiritbox's "Eternal Blue" and Machine Head's "Of Kingdom and Crown" blew me away. This year, I've been blown away by Code Orange's "The Above" and Sleep Token's "Take Me Back to Eden". But watch your budget - not every vinyl is urgent and worth it.
1. Beware of poor product runs. I purchased Chimaira's picture disc album "The Infection" over Discogs this year from a company. Turns out that the insert card melted to the front side of the disc from poor packaging and storage over the last decade. One side of the disc was unplayable. I decided to keep the album to support the small business vendor on Discogs. I ordered another two copies from sellers on Amazon and discovered similar results.
2. Join the Vinyl Collector Community! I have met some amazing people through sharing my vinyl journey on Facebook and Instagram, including some super friends like @doomedteacher. A school teacher from Florida, he has constantly surprised me with his album collection and likes. He's even become a pen pal of mine. I recommended you give him a follow, and take a look at all of the rest of the great music being shared on the #vinylcollector hashtag.